Churches in Iraq becoming targets for attacks

By Basil Adas, Correspondent
Baghdad: Conditions for Iraqi Christians are worsening, with churches increasingly becoming targets for attacks, religious leaders say.

Father Albert, a prominent priest in Baghdad, told Gulf News that about half of the Christians in Baghdad have left the city. Many have travelled to the safer region of of Kurdistan or have left Iraq.

Father Albert said that many churches are abandoned and deserted and demands for Sunday prayers has decreased dramatically, due to the security fears.

The Vatican, however, is attempting to draw attention to the plight of the religious minority by naming the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, the Iraqi autonomous Catholic Church, as a cardinal recently.



“The Vatican’s choice of Patriarch Emmanuel Delly, the father of the Iraqi Church, to be a cardinal was not a personal choice. It was a move to draw the world’s attention to Iraq’s suffering,” Aboona said.

Delly, the first cardinal bishop of Iraqi Christian origin, was elevated to the position by Pope Benedict XVI last November.

Iraqi official statistics indicate that there are about one million Christians living in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad, Mosul and some northern Iraqi regions. There are nearly 50 churches in Baghdad alone.

Fadi Najeeb, a member of the Assyrian Democratic Movement in Baghdad, a political party representing Assyrian Christians, said: “Targeting Christians in Iraq is part of targeting Iraqis in general, whatever was their religion and beliefs, yet I think that Al Qaida, which targeted Muslims before [it targeted] Christians, realises that there is a transformation in Iraqi Christians’ position towards supporting the political process in Iraq. So Al Qaida attacks doubled against us.”

In the past few days, lines of communication have been set up between the Iraqi government and the Christian population, following Patriarch Delly’s meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi and President Jalal Talabani.

However, this communication may cause increasing attacks against Christians because armed groups see this development as an attempt by Delly to show support to the government of Al Maliki in international forums.

Lubna, an Iraqi Christian citizen, told Gulf News: “We have lived in this land for two thousands years. No power will force us to leave it, despite the growing terrorist threats. We Christians have to share these difficulties with our Muslim, Yazidi and Sabian brothers. I think that the security situation is witnessing some improvement and that is a good thing”.

In Hay Al Ghadeer, Kamp Sara and Sinaa street, Christian enclaves in Baghdad, precautionary measures like concrete barriers lines some of the narrow alleys to protect against car bombings.

Joseph Murad, a university student, said several militant groups are responsible for attacks on Christians. “Al Qaida is not the only armed group that targets Christians. There are extremist militias trying to drag us into political and social conflicts because they accuse us of sympathising with Saddam Hussain’s regime.”